This was not our first rodeo.
After several tense moments of anticipation, the test finally flashed “PREGNANT,” and it became official: our third pregnancy in four years.
The difference between preparing for our first child and our third was night and day.
When my wife, Theresa, and I discovered we were expecting for the first time, we went into expectant parent overdrive: We read books and online articles for new parents that talked through best- and worst-case scenarios. I started a dad blog to capture all my prebirth wonders and worries.
We made a baby registry and relished the chance to pick out new furniture and baby clothes. I conducted a survey to get “dadvice” from 40 dads and posted each of their answers on my blog. We went on a babymoon to Arizona. We took the new-parent class at the hospital and talked about our birth plan. I made a pump-up and baby-themed Spotify playlist for labor and delivery. We even practiced using our baby wrap with my childhood Bugs Bunny stuffed toy.
Looking back, it is blisteringly obvious that we had an enviable amount of free time and no clue what the actual experience of parenthood would give to or demand from us.
Upon meeting our daughter, Madeline, the need for blogs, babymoons, and playlists melted away. We realized what this girl needed most was our love, affection, and protection. What we didn’t yet realize was that throughout the course of our marriage and all our prenatal preparations, God was molding our hearts to increase our capacity to provide that love.
Even when we became pregnant a second time with our son Charlie—more than a year into the parenthood gig—my wife and I still didn’t get it, wondering aloud on several occasions how we could ever love another child as much as we loved Maddie. Through our limited human comprehension, it just didn’t seem plausible.
It took this third rodeo—a complete shock of a pregnancy—for us to see things more clearly. This surprise development forced us to give up some of the seemingly certain plans we had so arrogantly made for our immediate future: a child-free vacation, a massive home remodeling project, and our ideal birth-spacing of our children, which we intended would blissfully take us out of the baby stage for a while and let us relax a bit.
That vision of life disappeared the instant the p-word appeared on the test. But it turned out to be exactly what we needed.
I’m convinced that the growing love in our family—between my wife and me, between us and our kids, and between our kids themselves—transformed our experience of this third pregnancy.
This love rejuvenated our hearts to find joy in another child instead of worry or stress. This love imbued us with confidence in our imperfect parenting skills instead of uncertainty and second-guessing. This love taught us to savor each moment, seeing how quickly our children are growing up before our eyes. This love revealed how our kids are each carving out a unique place in our hearts.
One night late into our pregnancy, our family of four took our usual places at the dining room table for dinner. By this time, Charlie’s verbal skills were thankfully improving to a point where he could start to communicate thoughts and ideas rather than just scream in frustration when we didn’t know what he wanted. Maddie is quite a conversationalist for a 3-year-old, and Charlie was emulating all of our laughter at something that she had said.
In that instant, I caught a glimpse of the fruits of our past, present, and future child-rearing labor. We had helped to create these awesome little people. Our sacrificial love for our children would in turn enrich our own lives and the lives of everyone they meet.
In the chaos of our day-to-day existence with a 3-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son, the nuts and bolts of the pregnancy itself—which dominated our thoughts throughout the first two pregnancies—took a back seat to the excitement of knowing that a fifth member of our family would be joining us. We knew we had everything we would need, and I’m not just talking about onesies and strollers. There was no longer a question of whether there would be enough love to go around. There was no competition or lack of space in our hearts for another.
Once he actually arrived, things got even better. I will never forget the moment when my children met their baby brother for the first time, and our family took its first uncertain-but-trusting step into the next phase of God’s plan for our lives.
I saw my son, Charlie—for all his boyish exuberance and unruly energy—truly melting at the sight of newborn Sammy, invoking a high-pitched, sing-song voice as he reached out and asked, “Tickle Baby Bammy’s feet?” My daughter, Maddie, after endlessly practicing for this moment with her baby dolls, quietly approached his face and said, “I’m your big sister! I’m going to teach you so much!”
In the weeks that followed, we were far from being the crazed first-time parents constantly Googling best practices, and we found ourselves resting in God’s love for our family and the blessing bestowed on us—all four of us—and how his arrival would continue to expand our hearts.
In these past few years, I’ve learned so much about the mystery of God’s endless love—and I know I’m still just seeing a tiny tip of the iceberg. As our family has grown, I have seen echoes of God’s perfect love for us through the familial love we share.
At this point, my children rely on me for pretty much everything. I satisfy their basic needs and try to help them to make sense of their worlds. I sacrifice time, sleep, energy, sanity, and whatever else they need from me. I don’t force them to love me back—but I know they do and in some magical moments, they show it. Maddie will randomly stop us in the middle of a conversation to come put her arms around my neck and just look into my eyes. As I played matchbox cars with Charlie the other day, he looked up at me and just said, “I love Daddy.”
There will continue to be stressful days ahead—we’re outnumbered now, after all, and my children’s love is not as perfect as God’s love. (As far as I know, God never needs to go in time-out.) But I’m hopeful that the lessons in love we have learned through this will be food for the journey.
This article also appears in the June 2020 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 85, No. 6, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.